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Steve Eaton: Presidential debates strange way to pick leaders

Published: Friday, Jan. 27 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

Republican presidential candidates, from left, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, take part in a Republican presidential debate Monday Jan. 23, 2012, at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla.

Paul Sancya, Associated Press

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I think there may be a tiny flaw in the way we choose our president.

There seems to be a sizable group of people who believe that our elected leaders in the nation's capital could, if they really tried, find some real solutions to the problems that afflict us and move this country forward. This group believes that if people with diverse viewpoints put their heads together, they could come up with new ideas, better than those proposed on either side of the aisle.

So, the way we find these intelligent people is that we hold a series of debates and give the opportunity to demonstrate that they know how to be real leaders because they can effectively criticize and demean anyone who disagrees with them. We test out their leadership skills by allowing them to argue and fight it out on national television. This kind of non-stop disagreement can be exhausting, and sometimes they have no choice but to agree with each other. We need not fear, because the TV people will help out by highlighting, at the end of the debate, just the disagreements.

Imagine you are on a long family trip and you become frustrated because instead of it being a memory-building experience, it proves a test of endurance. Your kids won't stop fighting. Nothing works for them and eventually they start trying to find a way to throw their siblings from your moving vehicle. So you come up with a solution. You tell them that you will pay close attention to their bickering and judge them like they are in a contest. The child who is the most relentless, the most critical and the most annoying will get rewarded with all the candy and junk food they want at the next rest stop.

I know some of you won't get this analogy. I recently heard a radio commentator mocking the whole idea that anything bipartisan could ever produce forward momentum or lasting solutions. A much more effective approach, he argued, would be to have the party with all the right ideas drive the evil-thinking party right out of office. I suppose that under this approach any surviving members of the incompetent, narrow-minded party would just have to try to oppose everything suggested and stall until the next presidential election when they could push for a new four-year reign of right-thinking individuals. I know, it's confusing knowing which party is the one we should keep and which party needs to be thrown from the family car, but that's what presidential elections are for, to help us identify the good guys and the dolts.

If President Obama is the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, the Republicans have decided the best way to take that belt back from him is to beat the living daylights out of their best candidate just before the real fight begins. For some reason, that seems like a strange strategy to me.

Accepting the fact that some favor a take-no-prisoner approach, I still can't understand why negative advertising is so effective. They all use the same guy whose voice promotes monster truck rallies and professional wrestling, and then they level these outrageous charges about the other candidate wanting to kill your puppy. And, for some reason, that works? If I heard such a commercial, and I knew that everything in it was technically correct, that tone and approach would make me skeptical about the message.

Cue the voice:

"You know the sun comes up every day, but what they don't tell you is what happens 12 hours later when it sets, plunging millions into darkness and despair. Is that what you want from your solar system?"

Now, I recognize that a race that emphasized the importance of listening, building consensus and finding new solutions would prove difficult for the press to cover. We have long been taught that if a candidate ever changes his or her mind on anything, then they are no longer fit to lead. Such people should not only be thrown out the family van but dragged behind it.

We're unlikely to see a newspaper story start like this:

"The four remaining Republican presidential candidates shocked moderators, viewers and their own campaigns on Tuesday night, when they suddenly pushed aside the podiums, pulled in a table from off stage and started working together to come up with new solutions that they said would 'benefit all of the American people.'"

I know that this column will just spark outrage, and that calm, reasonable people will not soon see their ideals implemented. I suggest the only thing we can do is to wait until all the wrong-minded, short-sighted, dogmatic people have spent themselves and then we can see a kinder, gentler, innovative approach take root.

In the meantime, I say we do all we can to block them, thwart them and undermine their approach. Soon open-minded people, right-minded, intelligent people will take over and the world will be a better place. There should be no compromise until consensus building is considered the only way to do things.

That really is the American way.

Steve Eaton lives and works in Logan, Utah. He can be reached at Eatonnews@gmail.com.

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